4th Sunday of Advent: LOVE
Here we are in the last Sunday of the Advent season. How quickly time has flown! We began by looking forward to the return of Christ rather than back to the birth of Jesus, since Advent means “coming,” and Jesus was only born once into this world just as we were. Matthew 24 warns us to watch and be ready. Because of the expectation of Christ’s return and the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, we can have HOPE.
The second week we talked about another aspect of Advent People. We saw from Isaiah 11 that, because Christ has both entered the world and ushered in His Kingdom…and because Jesus is coming back to usher in a Peaceable Kingdom where there is no more hostility between any living creature…we can have PEACE.
Last week, we discovered another characteristic of Advent People. Not only do we have peace—even amidst hostility, confusion, and conflict because of Christ living in us and with us—we also have JOY. Just as the Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord sang with Joy because of the promise given to her that her then unborn son will be the Savior of the world, we also can have JOY because Jesus is just as much in us and with us as He was with Mary. And even when we have hardship and heartache, loss and loneliness, we are truly never alone. Jesus is with us. And we find great JOY when we faithfully obey our Lord, just as Mary did.
Today we will look at one final—and perhaps greatest—aspect of Advent People. It is the characteristic that the apostle Paul said was the greatest gifts of the Spirit—LOVE.
As I looked over the suggested readings for today (and this entire Advent season), what I discovered that the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are ALL found in the opening verses of the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. Let me read it for you again, since we have pointed to it every Sunday of Advent.
Romans 5:1-15 NLT: 1Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
One of our Life Groups (Acts 29) is now studying the book of Romans. This letter reads more like a theological treatise than a letter. It is the longest, most elaborate, and most systematic document Paul wrote.
If we didn’t have another letter from Paul, we would still have 100% of the presentation of the Gospel and 99% of what Paul would want us to know about living the Christ-filled life. Here’s how he introduces himself and addressed his readers in the first 7 verses (which is one of the suggested readings for today):
Romans 1:1-7 NLT: 1Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, /called as an apostle, /set apart for the gospel of God, 2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;7to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul identifies himself as three things: (1) committed believer and follower of Jesus; (2) a proclaimer of the Gospel sent out to share this Good News; and (3) a holy man of God, since holiness simply means set apart for God’s use.
Paul then explains what this Gospel of God is, which is found in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Namely, it is the Son of God, born of David’s line. He is both of a fleshly king (David) and of the heavenly kingship as divine Son of God. It was not just his Davidic birth and life that made him Son of Man; it was his incarnation, born of the Spirit, life and resurrection from the dead that made him Son of God, Savior of the World, King of kings and Lord of lords! And his Kingdom shall never end!
It is because of his resurrection that Paul, the other apostles, and every creature has received grace. And even though Paul uses “we” to mean the apostles of his day who are being sent to share the Gospel, it is easily understood that such calling continued through generations to today.
That’s why when he addresses his audience of Rome, Paul calls them the “beloved of God.” Not only that, but he tells them that THEY/ have been called as saints! Too often we live like sinners because we haven’t accepted our inheritance as saints.
That reminds me of the story I’ve shared some time ago. A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. One morning, they were eating breakfast at little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee.” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” he replied.
“Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really great story for you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great… Just what I need another preacher story!”
The man started, “See that mountain over there pointing out the restaurant window. Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, ‘Hey boy, Who’s your daddy?’ “Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’
He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. “When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’.
But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. “Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your daddy?’”
The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, ‘Who’s your daddy’. This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy
“‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God. With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’
With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a Child of God’.”
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?” The professor responded that it really was a great story! As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, “Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody here knows him. That’s Ben Hooper. He’s the former governor of Tennessee!”
Today, somebody needs to be reminded that you are a child of God. Maybe your past has blinded you of who you truly are…or can become. Because you are loved by God, he made a way for you to be a King’s kid…a saint…every bit as much a saint as Paul, or Peter, Mother Theresa, or Billy Graham. The question is: are you living into your inheritance?
So, when we celebrate Christmas every year, we’re not just celebrating the birth of our Savior, but the realization of God’s love that has been poured out for us in Jesus Christ. I recently read in a devotional that, “When the New Testament speaks of God’s love, the focus is the cross.” Later in chapter 5 of Romans, Paul describes it this way:
8But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.
God demonstrated his LOVE for us by sending Christ to die for us WHILE we were still sinners. It’s great to celebrate Christ’s birth, but only within the grand story of redemption. Otherwise, it would have been simply a miraculous birth of a great man who lived a great life and did great deeds. But Jesus is so much more! Through joyful obedience, Jesus endured the death penalty for our sins. Why? What was his motivation. LOVE…LOVE OF THE FATHER AND LOVE OF YOU AND ME!
Now, how should that affect the way we live? As I said earlier, Romans is quite the exposition of the Gospel and the Gospel life. After explaining Humanity’s sin and Christ’s salvation in the first 5 chapters, Paul goes on to explain our victory over sin by the power of Christ in chapters 6 through 8. He even talks about God’s plan for the Jews in chapters 9-11.
Finally, Paul shares some principles for living the Christian life in chapters 12-15. And I want to end with a few verses from this section found in Romans 12. I encourage you to read all four chapters for a more detailed description of what it means to live the Christ-filled, Advent life of hope, peace, joy, and love.
9Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.